Starting off by uploading their songs to YouTube and recording their debut album after playing only two shows together, German duo Milky Chance (who have since gained two members) are one of the most unlikely success stories out there – having shot to worldwide fame with their first single and continuing to be popular afterwards is already something to be celebrated, but for a song and band so unlike anything else that was popular at the time it’s borderline miraculous. Playing a heavily electronic and trippy take on indie folk, Milky Chance’s debut is one of the most unique records in the genre.
Stunner starts the album off with a driving yet laid-back beat, beginning as it means to continue and laying out the band’s unique style right away; every instrument has a strange, artificial sound to it that despite almost entirely being created on a MacBook (except the guitars) still manages to sound warm, autumnal and folky in spite of its electronic origins. Flashed Junk Mind is when Sadnecessary really begins hitting its stride, opening with singer/guitarist Clemens Rehbein delivering a more focused and passionate vocal performance over a reggae-influenced, choppy guitar riff that continues through the song – but when the drums kick in every element is given more focus, sounding sharper and fuller than it did to begin with even though hardly anything is added – other than some subtle piano and background vocals that bear more than a passing resemblance to a certain Shins song. Repetition is a big part of this album, most of the songs making do with just one verse and chorus and then stretching them out for as long as they see fit, but that just helps add to the relaxed and chilled-out atmosphere it has. Rehbein’s distinctive voice is guaranteed to be one of the most divisive parts of the album, slurring his way through the songs in a gravelly and weather-beaten tone that gives way to clean, pure high notes (such as the Beach Boys-inspired Becoming) as well as giving the passionate moments more power.
Suddenly the album takes a surprisingly bleak turn, opening Running with an eerie, clean arpeggio – which makes it stick out like a sore thumb, the electronic touches disappearing completely – and then the track gets even darker, a low and menacing bassline straight out of a Portishead song appearing from nowhere as the emotion in Rehbein’s voice grows with each round of the verse, drawing in ghostly vocals that lead to a stuttering ending while a quiet banjo-like riff provides the only light in the darkness. The sudden change in tone continues through to Feathery, going from stark guitar plucks to a weird and wavering electronic beat that sounds as though the band have stripped a house song down to its bare bones. Bit by bit the track slowly returns to the warmth and easy-going feeling the first three tracks had, and by the time the all-too brief Indigo comes in it feels as though the dark cloud over the album has passed completely – the change in mood causing you to pay attention to the lyrics, which despite being cryptic and in slightly broken English, seem to make up a concept album about a struggling relationship. The title track Sadnecessary has the biggest reggae feel out of all the songs on the album, revolving around an understated riff and a rocking bassline that carries the song along on a warm, inviting, danceable beat that disguises the bitter lyrics well – when asked about what “Sadnecessary” meant, producer Philipp Dausch explained “on the one side you’re sad now, but on the other side you’re happy, looking forward to turning that sad feeling into a hoping mood” – and the song captures that perfectly.
Starting off pretty straightforwardly Down by the River doesn’t stand out as much apart from its rolling, instantly catchy riff, but then the bridge switches things up completely; with a cymbal crash the song is turned into the soundtrack from a spaghetti western, burying the vocals under layers of reverb and bringing in rough and gritty tremolo strumming…before switching back to normal and seeming as though it never happened. Sweet Sun is a far cry from the rest of the album both lyrically and musically, opening with fast hi-hats that lead into one of the most unlikely things you’ll ever hear on a folk record – rapping. The gamble pays off however as the band pulls it off with ease, blending in their typical jagged, echoey strums with an irresistibly catchy rhythm and vivid lyrics that compare Rehbein and his wayward lover to Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin – all of which builds to a silly but immensely likeable chorus. “Mmmm, you’re my baybehhh!” Fairytale is the least folky song here, throwing in an electric guitar for the hook and a bizarre bridge that involves the duo making strange, vaguely animal noises in the background over an understated guitar solo – which is impossible to focus on because of the weird sounds behind it. Quickly regaining momentum with the song that launched them into stardom almost overnight, after having spent three years working on it, Stolen Dance feels like the point the album was building up to. Even when surrounded by similar and equally good songs it still stands out and shines bright – going from a subtle and understated verse to a chorus that puts the focus on Rehbein’s soulful voice and a bluegrass-y riff that turns the guitar into something like a banjo. The album concludes with the fully acoustic Loveland, quietly winding things down with subtle but beautiful harmonies and lyrics that bring a close to the story being told.
A wonderful blend of styles that stays fresh from start to finish, Sadnecessary feels as though it was made by a band several albums in who have perfected their style – which makes one hell of a strong debut.
Genres… folktronica, indie pop, psychedelic folk, reggae fusion
Best tracks… Flashed Junk Mind, Running, Sadnecessary, Sweet Sun, Stolen Dance, Loveland